Phew. Mere minutes away from Chelsea clinching the league title in September, an old friend came back to haunt the champions-elect and dampen the premature exclamations about how this season will conclude. In the end, both sides will probably be fine with the point, though circumstances made it feel almost like a win for the home side. It was of course ridiculously early to be handing titles to any particular team especially considering the narratives of the past two seasons, when a team has seemingly had the title wrapped up six months later than now and let it slip. What’s more, Chelsea started on fire a couple of seasons ago before fading away. I’d argue also that the fixture list has been slightly less kind to City than Chelsea so far this season. Advantage them though at this early stage. An Indian summer and a 4pm start made for a lively atmosphere (at times) and the team-sheet helped heighten the interest. I personally had not been overly-concerned about the absence of Mangala, as I felt he was being saved for after this “week of death” before being introduced into the side, especially as Demichelis is a more than adequate deputy. I was surprised therefore to see him start – a bold decision by Pellegrini and this was a day where he did not shy away from them. The other surprise was playing both Aguero and Dzeko upfront, as I had presumed, and hoped, for a 4-4-1-1 formation after our midfield was overrun last season by Chelsea and by other similarly skilful teams. My concerns were unfounded. Until the final twist, the match was textbook Chelsea, textbook Jose Mourinho. City had a passive dominance, controlling the ball, possession, the match, but without fashioning many chances. Once more, Chelsea seemed to have come for a draw, as they have done many a time in big matches, and which they have every right to do, especially as it was a policy that almost brought them all three points and a huge advantage in the title race. They defended excellently as you would expect, and then took their chance. So whilst City dominated the ball, they couldn’t quite create clear-cut chances. Almost, but not quite. It’s never easy against Chelsea. Apart from a header from Toure, when he could have done better, there was little of note. An Aguero chance in the 2nd half that almost then fell to Dzeko was the best chance before it all kicked off. Despite all that, I thought City played well as a team, they just couldn’t get the breaks on the day. Let’s be honest, once Chelsea took the lead, there can’t have been many City fans that expected anything other than defeat. For ten minutes or so, from the red card onwards, City lost composure and shape. The goal followed, Hart saved a header and the post was struck. They kept going though, and not all City teams in the past would have done that. I wondered why on earth Lampard was coming on, it made little sense apart from being an act of desperation, and that’s why I don’t manager Manchester City (well there’s other reasons too I guess). A day of fruitful substitutions and tactical nous from both managers, as none of the starting 22 scored. As for the red card that preceded the Chelsea goal, I can have few complaints. The first booking was soft, but once he had it, it was reckless to commit the foul that got him dismissed, a clear yellow card. How much of an arse Diego Costa is does not change that fact. Which brings us to everyone’s favourite topic. The referee. Eight bookings in a game that contained no nastiness was excessive, but there was an argument that cynical fouls merited such punishment. The problem is when you only apply rules to certain players, whilst others, Cesc Fabregas springs to mind, escape all punishment. Another strange performance, but I’m used to them now. As for penalty appeals, the Toure handball was not even close to a penalty, as he had turned his back and had arms slightly outstretched for leverage whilst being close to the shooter. The foul by Ivanovic was a penalty, it’s clear on the slo-mo replay, but I can understand it not being given. This is now the fourth game in a row that City have had legitimate penalty calls turned down. I’m guessing we won’t see another spate of articles this season about how lucky we have been. No, scrap that, we probably will. I find ex-players not celebrating goals rather tedious, but you could probably make an exception for Frank Lampard, whose connection to Chelsea is stronger than most. So despite not creating many chances, I thought it was a good City performance, as mentioned previously (though the stats show 16 attempts by City to Chelsea’s 6, with 4 on target and 2 for the visitors). Man of the Match was clear in James Milner. It continues to exasperate that with every England match we have to go through the same tedious routine of him being slagged off by ignorant pea-brained so-called England “supporters” as if somehow all of England’s decades of under-achievement are down to the occasional appearance on a football field of this one man, who is no better nor worse than most around him, and when on form, as we saw yesterday or in the Allianz Arena last season, is a class above. Against Chelsea he played in at least four different positions during the ninety minutes and never faltered, had a 98% pass accuracy, won 4 tackles, made 15 crosses and created four chances, plus an assist of course.
But the rest of the team also performed admirably, with no key weaknesses. Kompany and Mangala bossed Costa, and what a debut it was for the Frenchman, showing us why he cost so much, an athlete paired with strength and no little speed either. He won all his aerial duels, had a 91% pass accuracy, won 4 tackles, made 4 clearances and made one key pass. Fernandinho continued where he left-off in mid-week, and whilst the attackers did not have a fruitful day, they worked hard and were far from poor. Yaya Toure played well enough too after recent criticisms. More of the same (and a bit more on top) please Yaya. I didn’t find the Chelsea fans particularly annoying. A rarity indeed. Manuel Pellegrini however did irk somewhat by dropping his guard and attacking Chelsea. I think it was probably a dig at Mourinho, which is fair enough, he deserves no respect whatsoever, but there was no need to bring Stoke into it. Poor Stoke. So now Hull away. Time to start converting performances into wins. There isn’t much room for error left now in the coming weeks, but in the toughest of eight days, there has been little long-lasting damage done either. Bravo to Mark Clattenburg , for it takes a special level of incompetence to give that first penalty to Leicester City. Still, it was bloody funny.